1. Who are you? Where are you incarcerated and how long have you been inside? If you would prefer this be anonymous to avoid repercussions, please feel free to use a nickname, or more general / generic info (like the state or region you’re in, rather than the specific prison).
I’m Sean Swain, currently level 4 at Ohio State Penitentiary, and I’ve been locked up since 1991. I’m way too lazy to use nicknames.
2. Can you tell us about any prisoner resistance movements or activities you’ve openly participated in?
I can describe reform efforts that failed, including legislative initiativesand hunger strikes and proposed work stoppages, all seeking changes from authorities, all recognizing the authorities and their legitimacy. In fact, I would submit that when reforms succeed, they fail… Becuz they only pave the way for counter reforms. The mythological character rolling the boulder up the hill… Succeeding… Only to end up rolling the other way… Over and over… Forever. You can participate in failure openly, but successes cannot be conducted openly.
3. What kind of tactics or action (whether formal protests or informal “troublemaking”) do you think are most effective?
Successful tactics in resistance have been those that involve direct action. On a couple of occasions, I have witnessed widespread sabotage campaigns with a decent propaganda effort really descend orderly operations into disarray. Unlike gang banging and hunger strikes and work stoppages, authorities are unprepared for this kind of tactic, incapable of putting a guard and a camera on every single captive.
Sabotage really exposes the key weakness of any authoritarian system: its reliance on the population’s obedience and complicity. Small numbers with virtually no resources or formal training can make a huge impact, attacking and discovering key choke points to exploit.
4. Can you tell us a story where outside support made a difference in your life or resistance efforts?
Outside support has greatly altered my life in many ways. One example is when I was in seg in Toledo (TOCI). Friends had a strategy. They called the prison and central office claiming to be media. This created the illusion of public attention, which all prison systems hate and fear. Friends also called legislators as media, then called the prison and central office as assistants to legislators, all of this prompting central office and the prison to call each other to say, “WTF,” and for them to contact real legislators in what they believed were return calls, right after legislators were contacted by fake media. Total shitstorm.
The illusion of visibility and political blowback. I knew it was happening as my material situation improved. Received property and privileges that had been withheld. By the time fake attorneys started calling, the will to keep fucking me around was greatly diminished. The illusion was
a powerful weapon, can be duplicated with a phone book and a handful of Walmart cell phones, however they are appropriated.
5. What strategies would you like to see emerge or develop among folks on the outside who already do prisoner support work?
I would like to see a couple things develop. First, some method to provoke prisoners to consider effective direct action resistance, to be a thread that connects resisting prisoners or aspiring resisters with information on previous successes and failures, inspiring prisoners to think beyond hungerstrikes. Second, creation of a kind of repository where information may be accessed by other supporters. Third, a developed strategy for connecting resisting prisoners at one location to prisoners at other locations. Information is power. Timing is everything. Coordination creates more favorable conditions. Fourth, and last, projection of the idea to the larger community in struggle that every element or action might in some way become integrated with local prison resistance or prospective prison resistance, or creating actions in such a way as to impact the operations of the prison industrial complex. To this last, an example: when at Toledo, an anti-nazi rally in town became a small riot. If those folks knew the location of TOCI and moved in that direction, the reaction of the enemy enforcers, the cost, the resources, the seriousness of the potential problem for perceived public order… Potential. In that case, potential from simply knowing the local prison was just down the street.
6. How could someone who’s new to prisoner support work get involved?
For this question and the next, let me give a broader response of getting informed. Departments of Corrections have websites with useful information on where prisons are, security levels, staff, how to get there, phone numbers, what prisoners are where. There are books and zine programs nationwide, where free world people get repeated requests from radical prisoners and possibly develop relationships. There are prisoner pen pal programs at infoshops and collectives. There are online presence for prisoner voices and zines… So, consult all of that, determine what your goal is, and select some course of action consistent with that goal. Like anything else, it should be experimental and fun.
7. How should we inform or include prison populations that may not already be involved, like female prisoners, prisoners in regions with less activity and support, folks in immigrant detention centers, county jails, etc?
Again, to refer back to #6 above, prisons are located in the physical world. Not hidden. The populations are inside, everyone given a number and part of an online catalog, with rap sheets and photos and FAQ sheets. Those prisons have parking lots full of cars with plates, where staff come and go at shift changes every day to drive to and from homes. This is a physical reality. Central offices for corrections systems are often located in industrial parks, with parking lots and cars with plates and shift changes. Again, physical reality. Explore it. Think while you explore. Successful developments are always organic and spring from experience.